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Doumbouya and the challenge of African democracy

But he became drunk on power, listening to those telling him that he was the messiah that Guinea...

If I was a Guinean, I’d be worried. Not only because in 2021, when even the western world has accepted the Taliban it spent 20 years and billions of dollars fighting are back in power without firing many shots. A coup by the army of a country led by a man who only months prior would not let Alpha Conde hold his own umbrella against the elements is not heroism, it is treachery and bad optics.

History has taught us that traitors usually do not end well. It is getting clearer that the 41-year old Colonel Mammady Doumbouya may eventually turn out a bully. He is built like one six feet of muscle and a burly frame.

Alpha Condé, the man Doumbouya effortlessly overthrew, was once a Guinean hero. However, like most African leaders that initially sip the concoction of power with a promise never to get drunk, the taste of the brew soon enticed him and he slipped into power hallucination. After the constitutional two-terms, Condé could have retired in peace and dignity like others assured that whatever sins he had committed in office was buried and forgotten. At 83, if he had died, his obituary would have read like a hero’s.

But he became drunk on power, listening to those telling him that he was the messiah that Guinea had waited so long for and without whom the nation would suddenly collapse. It’s been nine days and the skies have not fallen over Guinea.

With the help of a rubberstamp parliament of supposed representatives of the people, Condé amended the country’s constitution enabling him to run for a third term; organised a shambolic election in which an unconscionable electoral umpire declared him winner and carried on perhaps on his way to becoming a life-president.

It is a well-known African story. Mobutu Sese Seko chose that route. Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa travelled it; Gnassingbe Eyadema enjoyed it to death and even had his supporters hand it over to his son. Yahya Jammeh rode that crest in the Gambia and Blaise Compaore killed his best friend and comrade just to sit in. Ibrahim Babangida is on the list, eliminating his friends and wiping out entire corps of soldiers likely to outsmart him in office before he spent all the aces.

The optics of the Guinean coup is disturbing. The first appearance of Conde after the initial shootout was as epic as it was pathetic. Barefooted tired and looking confused, Condé was sandwiched between gun-totting soldiers young enough to be his grandkids. They insist on interviewing him for their fifteen seconds moment of fame on social media. His well-tailored shirt unbuttoned and a foot on a sofa, Condé evoked pity and shame. Just moments before those iconic video clips, he had been the most powerful man in Guinea, now he is reduced to a mere captive to soldiers who have no respect for his human person or his dignity as an ex-president.

It’s almost 10 days since that coup, and more optics have since emerged from Guinea. Doumbouya has pronounced himself leader of the insurrection surrounded by area boy soldiers with no care in the world for how the rest of humanity perceives them. Absolute power intoxicates and obfuscates the holders from stark reality. Doumbouya has stripped all the prefectures of Guinea of their ‘elected’ leaders; dissolved parliament and ordered members of the Condé cabinet to relinquish their passports and not attempt to leave the country.

On their part, West African leaders, who only months earlier could have envied Condé’s constitutional coup are unhappy at the turn of events. They had not seen anything wrong with Condé changing the rules of the game just before the quarterfinals, neither had they expressed dismay at the outcome. However, last week, they were quick to issue orders to the new rulers and to expel their leaders from their privileged club.

The feckless AU took a similar position. Again, they had not issued a statement condemning Condé’s rape of the Guinean constitution. These unasinous groups had adopted the posture of the three monkeys – seeing nothing, hearing nothing and saying nothing. Shortly after the coup, and perhaps to please their foreign masters that apparently enjoy watching them fail, they issued a statement condemning the ouster and asking their captured peer to be released.

Doumbouya’s khaki boys have treated all these idle vituperations with the contempt it deserves and embraced the sentence of ex-communication from the groups as normal. They have the support of the excitable on the street of Conakry and other towns and Condé as the pawn on their chessboard.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. For now, Guineans wouldn’t give a hoot how the world reacts to the adventures of their ‘liberators’. The jubilant crowd in Conakry won’t know what hit them until they realise that being a pariah is not as easy as shouting eureka on the streets. Except he earns the support of France, Doumbouya’s fate could end up worse than Sierra Leone’s Valentine Strasser.

As a colonial umpire, France does not want to condemn coups within its colony. While other ex-colonies seem to have moved past the antics of adventurous soldiers, more and more French-speaking nations are regressing to coups as antidote to bad governance. The Gaulic nation does not care much as long as it has full control of the minerals and an ex-colony’s foreign reserve. That way, it still holds those colonies by the balls.

Back to Guinea, over the weekend another poorly shot video appeared on social media in which Alpha Conde was being paraded on the streets of Conakry in a van with young children heckling their former sit-tight leader.

If Doumbouya felt happy disgracing an already humiliated Condé, he has not learnt any lessons from history. Strasser got as much support from Sierra Leoneans as bobbersome Guineans are giving Doumbouya’s junta at the moment. In the Gambia, people trooped out in support of an exuberant Yahya Jammeh but soon realised they were riding the tiger. He transformed into an insane dictator.

If history has taught any lessons, it is that young adventurers like Doumbouya trained to protect a nation, are not equipped to lead. It may soon dawn on the new junta in Guinea that populism is as intoxicating as absolute power with a bitter end to it.

Doumbouya is yet to unveil a cabinet with potential of reconciling the old guard with the new. There would be issues with the economy and how to raise the standard of living of hapless citizens of a mineral-rich but poorly managed nation. Doumbouya is yet to unveil a strategy for engagement and a road map for disengagement. There is the challenge of harnessing the best resources to pull Guinea out of the curse of excessive mineral wealth in a hands of greedy goons invested with public office. Above all, there would be the problem of how long Doumbouya and his excitable friends want to remain in office. These adventurers could soon realise that those shouting ‘hosanna’ for them now could change the slogan to ‘crucify’ them tomorrow. It is a lesson they could learn from Condé if they are humble and teachable. Of course here is proof that the seed of democracy planted in Africa is yet to take the firm roots of an Iroko.

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